Batman: three different ways forward on the big screen

Batman Returns
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Didn’t like The Batman? We suggest some ways that DC and Warner Bros could improve big screen depictions of the Caped Crusader.

In tough times, Matt Reeves’ The Batman has cleared $700m at the global box office, and hit that sweet spot of being critically adored and a smash with audiences. In the UK, its “15” rating hasn’t impacted its performance, with the film taking £40m since release.

But there’s always that one Batfan bewildered by the adoration. To my eyes, this latest outing for the Dark Knight was merely a dour retread of Batman Begins. Right down to Carmine Falcone being in league with a legacy villain, and a tease for The Joker at the end. When it wasn’t lifting from Nolan’s trilogy (or Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Zero Year comic), it was raiding David Fincher’s back catalogue. Even Saw came in for pilfering. As did Joker, in The Batman’s revisionist take on the saintly Thomas Wayne. Robert Pattinson and Zoe Kravitz put in sterling work, but their efforts could not disguise the stale whiff of déjà vu in a film that crammed one hour of plot into three.

Now, for the benefit of the five people still reading this, to my eyes big screen Bats has had his sonar jammed and lost his way. With that in mind, here are three humbly proffered ideas on how to rejuvenate a Caped Crusader who’s currently running on empty.

End the Caped Fear

Remember in Batman Begins when Scarecrow tells a gasolinesoaked Dark Knight he needs to lighten up (before tossing a Zippo on him)? Almost two decades on, the mad doctor might have a point. Yes, shadowy Gordon Willis’ Godfather-style cinematography can be wonderfully evocative. But The Batman looks like it was lit from the dark side of the moon. Granted, cost of living expenses are rocketing, but is Gotham so strapped for cash no-one paid their electricity bill?

Matching the visual murk in this Darkest Knight is an emo-sulkiness baked into performances and story. Remember when Batman was not a hangdog hero? This is the latest example of filmmakers misunderstanding the formula that made Nolan’s trilogy so special. Invention was his key to success, not gritty gloominess.

If DC and Warner Bros. want to get creative with Batman, they should shine a light into the shadows. Is not the whole point of the character that he turns great pain into something positive and heroic? Put a smile on that face and splash a bit of colour on Gotham. After all, Batman and Robin was twenty-five years ago. Don’t be afraid to lighten up.

Robert pattinson in The Batman

A working class hero is something to be

In 2000, Darren Aronofsky and legendary comic writer Frank Miller began collaboration on a Batman: Year One project. The movie was eventually shelved, but there was an intriguing notion in Miller’s script: after his parents are murdered, Bruce Wayne is put out on the street, and adopted by African-American repair shop owner “Little Al.”

A penniless Bruce Wayne fixes a growing problem with the character. A fabulously wealthy white man appointing himself ultimate arbiter of law and order? We’re seeing a little too much of that in real life, and it is rarely motivated by altruism. A true billionaire superpower nowadays would be to pay a fair share of tax.

We are done waiting for billionaires to save us, so it is time to redress Bruce Wayne’s class status. Particularly as The Batman’s underlying message seems to be only the rich guy can inspire people. Anyone of a lower class attempting change is portrayed as bitter, angry, ugly, and deranged. Not just The Riddler, but his Fight Club-like followers. Ordinary citizens can be correctly galvanised only by the rich guy, and those simple folk should never forget their place – walking in line behind Mr. Money.

A working-class Batman would solve some of these issues. In Miller’s Year One script, Bruce has lost his fortune. Go further and have him born into a family without vast wealth. A counterargument is that it runs contrary to the character, who acts as he does because of his privilege and status. But in the past only Batman’s wonderful toys really required he be super-rich. With technology now surpassing most things imagined by past comic book writers and artists, access to fancy gadgets for the creatively minded sits within the realms of believability.

During The Batman, Bruce says after two years under the cowl crime has worsened in Gotham. Surely someone of his intellect and resources would then pivot to a different strategy, like funding community initiatives. That he doesn’t suggests he’s another rich guy chasing thrills.

A Batman who at least knows someone who’s eaten a bag of crisps for breakfast wouldn’t be burdened with that meta-baggage when laying into street thugs and muggers. His crusade against organised crime and corruption within the halls of power would carry more heft if he came from a background impacted by this venality.

Sure, fanboys will howl. Let them howl.

Go properly MCU on the Dark Knight

Onscreen, DC has been playing catch up with Marvel since Man of Steel. With the success of Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Joker, and now The Batman, they will likely pivot entirely away from Justice League continuity to focus on standalone movies. But with déjà vu hanging heavy over The Batman, this latest strategy will hit a dead-end soon enough.

A friend suggested an intriguing way to dodge looming artistic inertia: tell the ultimate Batman story across ten films. Yes, begin with an origins tale, we’ll let Thomas and Martha get shot onscreen one more time. Then go beyond that to show Bruce Wayne’s entire life as the Caped Crusader, up to a Batman Beyond style passing of the torch in a far-flung future Gotham. All elements will have time to breathe, so Bruce Wayne will not ultimately have to make way for film stealing villains.

Bring in Catwoman, but make her more than a “does she like me” potential girlfriend. Play with different tones across movies. Venture out of Gotham. Get Robin right. Show Batman aging by going full on The Crown and having three or four actors play him. Let’s not forget about potential Bat side stories if supporting characters land. First up would be an adaptation of Gail Simone’s The New 52! Batgirl run.

Yes, this is all currently pie-in-the-Gotham-sky. The Batman is making serious coin, and Reeves will probably knock out a trilogy. But it may not be too long before Bats again finds himself lost in the dark knight of been-there-done-that. DC, when that time rolls around, embrace it as an opportunity to give the Dark Knight the creativity he deserves. And make him The Greatest Cape once more.

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